Christchurch after the earthquake: a photo journey

Visiting Christchurch was a sobering end to an action-packed road trip across the North and South Islands. The Garden City, as it is called, really surprised me; naturally it was sad seeing the city for the first time after the earthquake, but at the same time, it was great to experience the reconstruction, innovative projects and the great attitude of people!I didn’t quite know what to expect. My first few minutes of driving through town were quite “normal“. A bit of dirt here and there, but I did not see any damaged buildings and thought to myself that it must either be an unaffected part of town, or that reconstruction had progressed much more than I had imagined.

An old building across from the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, with the spire on the ground.

An old building across from the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, with the spire on the ground.

However when I got closer to the centre, it started – detours, earthquake signs, gaps. Suddenly I was glad I had been there before and knew my way around the detours to get to my hostel.

The soundtrack of a city rebuilding

I set out to explore Christchurch, one of my favourite cities, by foot, as I knew from visits before that distances in the centre were entirely walkable. Unless you have a Red Zone that cordons off all the roads you want to take!

Maps of the new Christchurch after the earthquake are available at the iSite and can also be found along the fence, outlining what areas of the city's centre are accessible in the ever-moving red zone.

Maps of the new Christchurch after the earthquake are available at the iSite and can also be found along the fence, outlining what areas of the city’s centre are accessible in the ever-moving red zone.

Where there were buildings, there was nothing. Rubble everywhere, but no people, and still it’s far from quiet; a constant rumbling follows me around wherever I go, the audible signs of reconstruction, now the new omnipresent soundtrack of Christchurch. Many new parking lots from Wilson and Tournament Parking, on land previously occupied by homes or commercial properties. It’s a ghost town that I’m walking through at 11 am. Is everyone at work? Walking around the CBD (literally, around, as the Red Zone cordons off the CBD completely), there were hardly any people to be seen. Only around the areas of Cashel Mall, the punting spot, the  Botanic Gardens, etc., one sees fellow visitors or groups of people in general, as far as central Christchurch is concerned.

Earthquake signs are found everywhere.

Earthquake signs are found everywhere.

Helping Christchurch rebuild

None of this should deter you from visiting the city though; on the contrary. There are quite a few things you can do, and it’s not just checking out the gap filler projects and enjoying a coffee in one of the new pop-up cafes (although I highly recommend this too). If you know where to go and stay, Christchurch is great for a few days. I will write more about what to do, where to stay and how to get around post-quake Christchurch in my next post; but for now, let’s explore the effects of the earthquake in pictures.

And I am sure you will agree, there was still plenty a good reason for fundraising efforts! I threw myself off a plane, jumped off a bridge, rafted down a 7m waterfall, and did a few other stunts outside my comfort zone, to raise money for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal as part of my Blog4NZ tour of New Zealand. Thank you for everyone who has donated to date; the donation site remains open for another few weeks, so there is still time to give a few dollars to much-needed community projects in Christchurch. Remember, Microsoft will double your money!

Thank you very much to everyone who has donated to date; your contribution is very much appreciated and will reach the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal once the donation site closes and the funds are matched by Microsoft.

The former parking garage next to the Christchurch City Library.

The former parking garage next to the Christchurch City Library.

What's left of Christchurch Cathedral.

What’s left of Christchurch Cathedral.

This is Worcester Avenue leading towards Cathedral Square, cordoned off from the bridge over the Avon. There is a debate on whether the famous Christchurch Cathedral can and should be saved. There are currently plans on developing a cardboard cathedral until a more permanent place of worship is built.

This is Worcester Avenue leading towards Cathedral Square, cordoned off from the bridge over the Avon. There is a debate on whether the famous Christchurch Cathedral can and should be saved. There are currently plans on developing a cardboard cathedral until a more permanent place of worship is built.

A few fences still carry messages, photos and flowers, put down in memory of loved ones that lost their lives during the earthquake.

A few fences still carry messages, photos and flowers, put down in memory of loved ones that lost their lives during the earthquake.

Regent Street is still cordoned off, but many of the beautiful buildings didn't look too bad.

Regent Street is still cordoned off, but many of the beautiful buildings didn’t look too bad.

A house alone with no neighbours - a common sight.

A house alone with no neighbours – a common sight.

A common sight - a lot of rubble is cleared away, but ruins remain, next to empty spots.

A common sight – a lot of rubble is cleared away, but ruins remain, next to once occupied lots.

The streets of Christchurch, gaps, cracks and remnants of liquefaction.

The streets of Christchurch, gaps, cracks and remnants of liquefaction.

Where a church once stood, only the bell tower was left. Near Peterborough Street.

Where a church once stood, only the bell tower was left. Near Peterborough Street.

The memorial at St Luke's church near Peterborough Street, in memory of the 185 people that died when the earthquake hit.

The memorial at St Luke’s church near Peterborough Street, in memory of the 185 people that died when the earthquake hit.

There are many roads in Christchurch that are fine, but you do come across a few big cracks and gaps here and there.

There are many roads in central Christchurch that are fine, but you do come across a few seriously big cracks and gaps here and there.

Looks fine from the outside, but I came across many shops, offices and restaurants are closed.

Looks fine from the outside, but I came across many shops, offices and restaurants that are still closed, 1.5 years after the big earthquake. It’s not easy to find an open restaurant, especially in the evening when the mall is closed.

The Public Defence Service in the centre of the city.

The Public Defence Service in the centre of the city.

A gap filler project - the Dance-o-mat. Gap Fillers are creative projects occupying vacant lots that are awaiting reconstruction. The council has put quite a few interesting and innovative projects up, one of which is the Dance-o-Mat, allowing people to plug their MP3 player into a converted washing machine, pay a couple of dollars, and have a dance party on the dance floor, with music and lighting!

A gap filler project – the Dance-o-mat. Gap Fillers are creative projects occupying vacant lots that are awaiting reconstruction. The council has put quite a few interesting and innovative projects up, one of which is the Dance-o-Mat, allowing people to plug their MP3 player into a converted washing machine, pay a couple of dollars, and have a dance party on the dance floor, with music and lighting!

 

Gap filler project: with the crayons provided, passers-by are invited to finish the sentence on this giant board near the new bus station.

Gap filler project: with the crayons provided, passers-by are invited to finish the sentence on this giant board near the new bus station.

Gap filled - a much needed cafe next to the Avon River.

Gap filled – a much needed cafe next to the Avon River. Great latte, highly recommended 🙂

Signs and more signs about earthquake recovery works.

Signs and more signs about earthquake recovery works.

In all the destruction, there’s also plenty of colour, creativity and expression in art to be found around the centre:

Fencing is providing plenty of empty canvas here in Christchurch. Creativity ensues.

Fencing is providing plenty of empty canvas here in Christchurch. Creativity ensues.

Broken houses, broken hearts.

Broken houses, broken hearts.

A colourful gap filler - I loved those.

A colourful fence amidst all the grey emptyness.

Once surrounded by other buildings, now there's art to be seen across the now empty lots.

Once surrounded by other buildings, now there’s art to be seen across the now empty lots.

Gap filler project: part of a mural I came across while walking north / north east of the Red Zone.

Part of a mural I came across while walking north / north east of the Red Zone.

Gap filler: gigantic mural in Christchurch. Definitely worth stopping at for a while.

Gigantic mural in Christchurch. Definitely worth stopping at for a while.

Gap filler project: another empty lot where the rubble has gone, waiting for a clever and creative project.

Gap filler project: another empty lot where the rubble has gone, waiting for a clever and creative project.

To meet people in the centre of town, head to Cashel Mall, the new retail centre full of old and new shops, cafes and restaurants in colourful containers. It also hosts market stalls with arts and crafts, music, entertainment and more food!

Pointing towards the new container mall - the mall is much more colourful and lively than the rather drab sign suggests.

Pointing towards the new container mall – the mall is much more colourful and lively than the rather drab sign suggests.

The German bratwurst stand has also relocated to Cashel container mall, from its previous location next to the arts centre.

The German bratwurst stand has also relocated to Cashel container mall, from its previous location next to the Arts Centre.

Entertainment and street performances at Cashel Mall - finally a place to meet people, a place where life is happening.

Entertainment and street performances at Cashel Mall – finally a place to meet people, a place where life is happening.

A slice of cake in exchange for a charitable donation, at Ballantyne's where the first anniversary of the Re:Start Cashel Mall was celebrated at the end of October.

A slice of cake in exchange for a charitable donation, at Ballantyne’s where the first anniversary of the Re:Start Cashel Mall was celebrated at the end of October.

Cake decorating competition at Christchurch Cashel Mall during the 1st anniversary celebrations.

Cake decorating competition at Christchurch Cashel Mall during the 1st anniversary celebrations.

Christchurch stay strong - a message found on many a slice of cake.

Christchurch stay strong – a message found on many a slice of cake. Kia kaha!

Window display at Cashel Mall.

Window display at Cashel Mall.

1st anniversary of Re:Start Cashel Mall - time for celebrations!

1st anniversary of Re:Start Cashel Mall – time for celebrations!

Cashel Mall on a nice spring day.

Cashel Mall on a nice spring day.

Market stands at the Cashel Mall, Christchurch

Market stands at the Cashel Mall

Cashel container mall, Christchurch's provisional commercial high street

Cashel container mall, Christchurch’s provisional commercial high street

Bicycles and floral arrangements next to the cordoned off rubble at Cashel Mall

Bicycles and floral arrangements next to the cordoned off rubble at Cashel Mall

View from Cashel Mall towards The Crossing - still cordoned off in November 2012. The tracks for the tram are not in use anymore.

View from Cashel Mall towards The Crossing – still cordoned off in November 2012. The tracks for the tram are not in use anymore.

 

As you can see, Christchurch still has a way to go to get back to some sort of normal, and that includes homes for people (especially in the badly affected suburbs), critical infrastructure but also places to meet, community projects and all the things that make a city worth living in. If you’d like to contribute, consider donating a few dollars (or any other currency) to my fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal by clicking on the button below. Your money will be doubled by my employer.

Thank you!

The next post will feature Christchurch again, this time focussing on things to do in Christchurch after the earthquake.

 

Have you been to Christchurch recently? What did you make of the Garden City? Or do you live in Christchurch? How do you feel about the current situation and reconstruction developments?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  26 comments for “Christchurch after the earthquake: a photo journey

  1. 2 January, 2013 at 15:06

    Mind blowing. Your photos bring the devastation to life.

    • Christina
      2 January, 2013 at 20:53

      It was quite shocking in some parts, in others perfectly fine and as pretty as ever. But I suppose if you keep in mind that the earthquake happened almost 2 years ago, it makes you wonder what it looked like a year ago…

  2. 5 January, 2013 at 20:06

    Wow. This reminds me of visiting Thailand just after the tsunami. Evacuation routes everywhere. Sadly, hindsight doesn’t save lives.

    • Christina
      5 January, 2013 at 23:28

      It must have been sad visiting Thailand right after the tsunami. Same here, only I went back 1.5 years after the big one, but it still looked closed down. I regret not having had more time to go to the suburbs, especially Lyttelton.

  3. 5 January, 2013 at 22:27

    Really interesting to here about the on-going reality there. I’ll be visiting myself later this year.

    • Christina
      5 January, 2013 at 23:30

      I hope you enjoy your stay in Christchurch. Keep an eye out for my next post, which is all about things to do in Christchurch – still plenty of stuff, plus all the reconstruction work to come, it’s an interesting place to visit.

  4. 5 January, 2013 at 23:44

    The statistic that’s oft quoted is 50% of the CBD was damaged and/or condemned after the quartet of quakes. After talking to a few people in Christchurch, the unofficial number puts it closer to 75 to 80%. Staggering.

    As you also noted, Christchurch is also evolving in an unusual manner, whereby the CBD is basically shut (naturally), and most businesses one expects to find in the CBD have migrated out to the suburbs. The future redevelopment will have to take that into consideration by gently getting people and businesses *back* into the CBD and to help remove that “mental block” (and agony, for that matter) of having survived those quakes only to see rubble.

    I hadn’t visited Christchurch before those quakes hit, but having spent some time around the city and the area helped solidify my thoughts about the area: the ground might shake, but the people are sound, and those who stay will build again.

    • Christina
      6 January, 2013 at 22:25

      I had a chat with a couple from Christchurch on the Interislander ferry. They seem to agree with the 80% number you mention. They said the worst thing was the politics that stalled and delayed some of the reconstruction efforts. The resentment is in particular about the fact that people talk about the cathedral etc. while many people in the badly affected suburbs still have broken homes with portaloos.

  5. 6 January, 2013 at 15:07

    Wow. I remember photos of Christchurch, bringing to mind an old-fashioned English village. Very sad this. Good on ya’ for helping the rebuilding efforts.

    • Christina
      6 January, 2013 at 22:29

      Thanks Sophie. It was very sad indeed to wander around the streets of Christchurch. Took me a while to digest that until I could write about it! But having said that, the people are incredible. They just get on with it.

  6. Deb
    6 January, 2013 at 17:21

    It looks like there is still a long way to go. We flew in to Christchurch two days after the earthquake hit and it was devastating. There were still severe aftershocks and everywhere was closed off. We stayed in a hostel just outside of the earthquake zone as it was the only place left open. Our hotel that we had booked had been flattened and our hostel had no power or water. It was running on generators. We spent 6 weeks in New Zealand and when we returned to Christchurch it was still in disarray. Businesses were already starting to reopen near the airport instead of returning to downtown. Army Tanks were driving through the city and people were still on high alert. We never had the chance to see Christchurch before the earthquake, but we hear it was beautiful. All the best to the citizens of Christchurch.

    • Christina
      6 January, 2013 at 22:37

      I had no idea you were in ChCh just after the earthquake had happened. Compared to what you saw, Christchurch has naturally moved on and cleaned up a lot – the result of which are the many many gaps everywhere. However it just goes to show how bad it was. On the positive side, we can all look forward to the new buildings and spaces being created. Judging by the gap fillers and what I’ve seen around town, there’s lots of creativity around!

  7. Robin
    6 January, 2013 at 21:41

    Christchurch is my home town. We are heading back to Christchurch in a couple of days. We were there after the earthquakes and were devastated by the destruction. However, Cantabrians are a hardy lot and christchurch is rising again.

    • Christina
      8 January, 2013 at 00:17

      Hi Robin! Great to hear from a real Cantabrian! I am glad you are confirming my impressions on the people of Christchurch. Everyone had such a great attitude, everyone gets on with it and tries to make the best of it. Glad to help your remarkable city out on the fundraising front even if only a little bit, and look forward to the day when I can announce the final amount of donations!

      • Robin
        8 January, 2013 at 00:27

        Thank you Christina for doing such a great job. It’s people like you who gladden our hearts and bring tears to our eyes as well. Every little bit helps you know.

        • Christina
          8 January, 2013 at 13:18

          Blogging for a good cause, feels twice as good 🙂 <3 Looking forward to seeing many more great creative projects and the rebuilding of your city. It'll be even better.

  8. 22 January, 2013 at 19:56

    It’s shocking to see such damage, but it’s good to see that life is going on, that things are moving forward. Yes, there is still lot to be done, but it’s not easy to recover from something like that!

    • Christina
      29 January, 2013 at 22:23

      Shocking indeed. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was really sad, and I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for people in Lyttelton for example. But yes, things are moving forward. Look forward to seeing all the change!

  9. 23 January, 2013 at 00:44

    I didn’t realize the extent of the damages that exist in Christchurch. Your pictures were great. You did a good job of showing the damage and how the city is coping.

    • Christina
      29 January, 2013 at 22:24

      Thanks, Vegan Gypsies! I want people to visit Christchurch, but I also want them to have a realistic picture of it. Of course there are areas that are absolutely fine, but there’s just a lot of destruction still left. Great time to visit though, witnessing all the new development!

  10. 7 February, 2013 at 11:56

    We’ve been watching the TV show Treme and seeing this post I’m drawing some similarities to post-Katrina New Orleans. While the disasters were devastating, the spirit of the residents seem to triumph over the adversities. I hope Christchurch is spared future difficulties! Great post =)

  11. Paul
    30 May, 2013 at 12:01

    Some really great pictures!!

    Living in Christchurch the earthquakes have been marked by incompetence of Civil Defence right from the beginning with them concentrating on the CBD, providing assistance in the least damaged parts of the city – Port a Loos in the lesser damaged parts of the city were placed on nearly every street corner whereas in the Eastern part of the city – where most of the damage occurred people had to drive to the nearest loo.

    Later the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) has been dominated by Gerry Brownlee the minister placed in charge who in the main has prevented the CEO of CERA from doing his job effectively.

    It is true that many buildings have been demolished; one has to wonder whether or not all of the demolitions were necessary. The problem was CERA’s former demolitions manager was an accountant. One has to wonder how different the end result would have been if an engineer was in charge. This same person is now in charge of the CBD rebuild unit which oversaw the creation of the Central City Blueprint which had to be completed in 100 days! The snag with the blueprint is that it calls for the demolition of perfectly sound buildings to make way for the plan.

    A classic example of the incompetence of the rebuild unit was that it called for the demolition of a brand new building because of road widening. This is despite the owners of the building receiving and assurance that it was ok to build.

    The Earthquake Commission’s work has been marred by gross incompetence throughout. People in the east of the city became so angry with the constant hold ups with claims and shoddily done repairs that EQC erected a security fence topped with razor wire around their business hub in the area (this has since been taken down).

    The insurance companies have been more interested in holding onto their money with the majority of claims yet to be settled.

    Large areas of the residential area in the East are in the residential Red Zone where CERA have bought house owners out – very generous except the figures paid were based on 2007 valuations which in some cases, home owners were out of pocket. The insurance companies decided that when a Red Zoned house could have been repaired they would only pay out on the cost of repairs. This decision was challenged by one couple who had the resources in the High Court which resulted in a finding that in that case only the replacement cost should be paid out rather than the repair cost.

    On a positive note the rebuild is gaining momentum (after 2 1/2 years it ought to be) The city’s waste water piping and sewers are being replaced, SCIRT an umbrella organisation comprising of a number of construction companies have been doing a first class job and there are many road work sites and detours in many parts of the city. Mondays can be interesting days where new work sites have been established and the detours changing.

    There are commonalities between post Katrina and post earthquakes in that the most vulnerable people have been the ones to suffer. We are now into winter, I fear that the hospital’s emergency department will be in for a busy period caused by people living in damp and cold damaged houses brought about by the incessant delays in settling claims.

    One thing that did occur after the February 2011 quake was that the city council bought the entire world’s supply of chemical toilets

    • Christina
      24 June, 2013 at 21:07

      Hi Paul,
      thanks for stopping by, and for offering your opinion on the reconstruction efforts and insights into all the red tape one has to deal with when living in an affected area in Christchurch. That is certainly something that escapes us outside of NZ. It is sad to read that there is so much bureaucracy coming in the way of improving things for the citizens of Christchurch. I do hope the improvements speed up especially as you say now that winter is here!

  12. Maui Couple
    19 June, 2013 at 22:45

    My husband and I will be visiting New Zealand in March of 2014. We will be traveling from the North to the South Island and stopping for a short stay in Christchurch. This will be my husbands first time to NZ. I was blessed to have visited in 2005. I’ve not forgotten the beauty and kindness of the people of Christchurch. My daughter and I sitting in the City Centre with it’s beautiful churches and clock tower just enjoying people watching. It will be sad to see the damage to that area and my hope that it will come alive again and better to have survived such a tragedy. I am looking forward to visiting NZ and especially Christchurch.

    • Christina
      24 June, 2013 at 21:02

      Absolutely – you should look forward to visiting Christchurch. Sure it was sad seeing the destruction, but there’s plenty of great stuff going on. People are as friendly as ever and there’s so much creativity. And certainly the tourist dollars are needed there most 🙂 Tourism can have a very positive impact and for Christchurch it really matters. I hope you have a great time in Christchurch and on your big NZ trip in general!!
      Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Jinny Anderson
    20 September, 2013 at 21:05

    My first visit to New Zealand, June 2013. The spirit and creative revitalization of Christchurch is magnificent. The people we met were all very positive in a dire situation. The Re-Start Mall was super and something similar should have happened in the areas hit by Katrina and Sandy in the U.S. The brightly painted shipping containers turned into to a shopping area, what a brilliant idea! Our visit was during a huge winter storm but we hiked around the city in the rain anyway. Red tape and bureaucracy always slows down any process; however, the local residents should be applauded for their efforts.

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